The Boy Scouts

American Icons, Americana, People, Traditions
on June 17, 2007

As an American flag waves high in the morning sky at the Meridian Historical Village in Okemos, Mich. (pop. 22,805), more than 80 khaki-uniformed Boy Scouts raise their right hands in a three-fingered salute.

On my honor, I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country and to obey the Scout Law; to help other people at all times; to keep myself physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight, the Scouts recite in unison.

The recitation of the Boy Scout Oath marks the beginning of a weekend of camping and outdoor activities for the youngsters, who will delight in skipping stones, throwing tomahawks, building campfires and following map directions with a compassjust as Scouts have done for 100 years.

To fulfill their promise to help other people, the boys and their adult leaders take a break from the fun to trim trees and bushes, and spread 35 yards of mulch along the walking trails of the towns Central Park.

As evening falls, the boys share a meal cooked over a campfire, then gather by Lake Catherine for a visit by a re-enactor portraying Sir Robert Baden-Powell, founder of the Boy Scouts.

Birth of the Boy Scouts
Baden-Powell, a 19th-century British military intelligence officer, penned an 1899 manual on wilderness survival and stalking game for British soldiers that became a hit with English boys. After learning of the books popularity with youth, he set out to write a new edition that focused on nonmilitary nature skills.

To research the ideas he wanted to include in Scouting for Boys, Baden-Powell took 22 boys of mixed social backgrounds on a camping trip to Brownsea Island, off the English coast. During that August 1907 campout, Boy Scouting was born, and the new organization caught on quickly with British boys.

Two years later, American newspaper publisher William D. Boyce became lost in one of Londons notorious fogs. A boy helped him find his way, but refused a tip for his service. When he explained that, as a Scout, he couldnt take money for doing a good turnone of Baden-Powells Scouting fundamentalsBoyce was intrigued. Boyce later met with Baden-Powell, and decided to bring Scouting to the United States. On Feb. 8, 1910, the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) was incorporated.

Do a good turn daily
Scouts have taken the good turn slogan and turned it into a tradition of community service. Throughout the nation, more than 2.9 million Scouts provide loyal, friendly service in hundreds of ways. BSAs Good Turn for America program, begun in February 2004, has recorded 4.5 million service hours by Scouts working on their own and with other national organizations such as Americas Second Harvest and the Salvation Army.

In Fox Island, Wash. (pop. 2,803), Boy Scouts helped the Fox Island Community and Recreation Association (FICRA) transform a five-acre wetland purchased in 2004 into a community park and nature center. About 75 percent of the parks featuresincluding cedar picnic tables, wooden footbridges and boardwalks, park benches and a native species gardenwere designed and built by local Boy Scouts as service projects, part of the requirements to attain Scoutings highest rank of Eagle Scout.

They made the park into what it is today, says John Ohlson, 50, FICRA president and a leader of Cub Scout Pack 202, which serves boys in first through fifth grades. His son Alex is a Cub Scout whose pack worked on the nature center as well.

We built birdhouses and we even got to climb ladders and hang them in the trees, says Alex, 9, whos been a Scout for four years. It was fun cutting the wood with a saw and then hammering the pieces together into a birdhouse. Im not sure if a bird is living in mine yet, though.


In Illinois, Scouts spent a year collecting more than 3.5 million aluminum beverage cans worth more than $50,000 to sponsor a Habitat for Humanity house in Peoria.

I asked everyone I knew for their cans, even local businesses, says Alex Hoadley, 11, who belongs to Cub Scout Pack 85 in Morton, Ill. (pop. 15,198). He collected 14,000 cans in his familys garage, then periodically sold them to a recycling center.

I felt really good when I turned them in, because I knew that I was helping to build a house for someone who needed it, he adds.

In Delta Township, Mich. (pop. 30,904), members of Troop 111 place American flags on the graves of veterans buried at St. Joseph Catholic Cemetery in Lansing, Mich., prior to Memorial Day each year.

It was kind of solemn and patriotic, says Paul Milligan, 12, who worked with 10 other Scouts and their parents to mark nearly 1,000 graves last year. I hadnt realized how many people in the cemetery had served in wars. It gave me a good feeling inside to honor them. I have a lot of respect for veterans.

Maintaining the tradition
Jan Medlam, an electronics/avionics technician and an Eagle Scout who has been active in the Boy Scouts for 40 years, believes the elements that made Scouting popularoutdoor activities, challenging yourself, achieving goals and becoming a leaderwill help the tradition thrive for the next 100 years.

I enjoy the positive attitudes, the environment, the goals of Scouting, says Medlam, now a leader of Boy Scout Troop 497 in Andale, Kan. (pop. 766). When I was a Scout, there were a couple of adults I looked up to; I want to be that kind of adult for todays boys.

Bradley Shuck, 18, of Williamston, Mich. (pop. 3,784), became an Eagle Scout last December. Only about 5 percent of all Scouts attain the rank, which requires serving as a troop leader for six months, earning at least 21 merit badges and completing a community service project.

As the sixth member of his family to become an Eagle Scout, earning the title was like getting into the familyits a family tradition.

A lot of people think that Boy Scouts is about helping little old ladies across the street, says Shuck, a recent graduate of Williamston High School. But Ive been camping, canoeing in the boundary waters of Minnesota, stayed overnight on the USS Silversides submarine, supervised 25 people on a building project, and learned CPR and first aid.

He adds: Ive learned so much and had lots of fun. When I get married and have kids some day, I want them to be involved in Scouting, too.

Scouting Principles

Scout Law: A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent.
Scout Motto: Be prepared.
Scout Slogan: Do a good turn daily.

Famous Eagle Scouts

Neil Armstrong, astronaut
Bill Bradley, professional basketball star and U.S. senator
Gerald R. Ford, president of the United States
Robert Gates, U.S. secretary of defense
J.W. Marriott Jr., president of Marriott Corporation
Michael Moore, filmmaker
William Sessions, former FBI director
Steven Spielberg, movie director
Sam Walton, founder of Wal-Mart